Checkered Past: Stunners
7.28.79 Selinsgrove, PA: Allen Klinger (98) and Scott Tobias (17) Mike Chlebowski photo

Today we examine the word “upset.” Very versatile, it can be a verb as in “upset the apple cart” or an adjective like “upset stomach” to describe a queasy belly. It was likely an American who first attached the term “upset victory” to Cassius Clay in 1964 or the New York Jets of 1969 or any baseball team that toppled the New York Yankees around 1955. In sports context, it labels unforeseen glory. Over time “upset” became its own noun needing no further explanation.

In the early days of the World of Outlaws, upsets were features won by someone other than Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell or Doug Wolfgang. Fortunately to fans of parity and journalists struggling to sound original, wealth was more evenly distributed in 2019 when 20 different drivers parked in victory lane. No sprint car racer brimming with confidence would ever tag the greatest nights of their professional lives as anything but inevitable because to do otherwise might infer that they were dismissed before the start. But if we put pride aside for a moment, history can be examined without bias.

These are thumbnail sketches of some of the most shocking outcomes in World of Outlaws history. To meet that criteria, an upset winner was one who never beat The Outlaws before or since, never finished among its Top Five or Top Ten before or since, never saw the field of glory or never saw the winning machine until their landmark evening. Hindsight proves which were anomalies and which were tips of spears to careers that pierced the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

Last week’s win by Carson Short checked those boxes. Beneath the banner of the World of Outlaws, the kid from Marion, IL had never been better than sixth on Nashville’s odd oval. He had however visited victory lane at the Tri-State Speedway with and without wings so Short’s sheet was not completely unexpected. Carson became the 145th series winner and creative kernel.

It seems inappropriate to credit anyone’s first win during any club’s first season as an upset. After all, Steve Kinser’s win in Round Four was more than a mild surprise until he added 685 more. The most unexpected victory of the second Outlaw season came at Selinsgrove Speedway courtesy of teenage coal shoveler Allen Klinger of Hegins, PA. He had six wins in two full seasons in the saddle, albeit one stitched by Charlie Lloyd, car owner to Smokey Snellbaker and car builder behind Lynn Paxton. They were expected to beat The Outlaws; Klinger was not. He did carve a 26-win career capped by the 1980 Williams Grove National Open aboard Lucas Mining 98 of his grandfather Frank.

Some victories would have made more ripples had they not been unfairly stamped with the “preliminary” demerit. Bill Stief’s win at Williams Grove in 1980 met that standard though history proves that his Walter Dyer Masonry team would stack accolades like so many bricks. When they swept the 1996 National Open with Lance Dewease, Dyer’s eve with Stief was less surprising.

2.4.82 Tampa, FL (Florida State) Al Hager (Gene Marderness photo)

Al Hager’s preliminary victory during the 1981 Florida Winter Nationals was wholly unpredicted. Hager had never been better than eighth against Outlaws. He had cracked the 1979 Knoxville Nationals final for Laverne Nance then took the first MOSS meet at Atomic Speedway. East Bay success came in Al’s second southern journey in a wingless car created in Fostoria’s Fabrication Shop. Larry Keegan and Erick Phillips of Riverside Engines assembled the fresh 410. Phillips later launched Attica Raceway Park with Gene Frankart. Gibsonton got pelted with rain; qualifying was canceled. Al led all 25 laps. George Gillespie suggested the winning Carrera shocks. George soon shifted to Pro Shocks and brought Hager’s mentor Fred Linder down to Georgia.

Very little happened to Hager to suggest that East Bay was anything but an upset. He did win without sanction at Fremont, Sharon, Butler, McCutchenville and Wayne County. His biggest score was Five Grand in MOSS money. But he missed the 1981 Knoxville Nationals final by one position. He followed the 1982 All Star Circuit of Champions into Central PA and watched Williams Grove from his trailer. Lenard McCarl hired Hager for the 1982 Nationals but Al headed home early. He drove for Harold Kemenah, Bill “Barney” Lyle, and Gary Mussatto from Kansas. Bob Hampshire took Hager to the 1991 Knoxville Nationals but their prelim went so poorly that they headed for Lincoln Park and Kokomo, which were Hager’s last documented drives.

The 1989 World of Outlaws win at the suburban Phoenix complex called Firebird (now Wild Horse Casino) by Chuck Miller of Morgan Hill raised eyebrows. Had the Baylands champion of 1986 and ‘88 beaten the best at that Fremont facility or the San Jose Fairground that spawned him, it would have been less illogical. Miller began with box tails and the biggest wings in the world. 

San Jose Supers were their own breed of cat: basically sprint cars with pseudo-factory rails that migrated from San Jose asphalt without fuel injection or tear drop tanks. By the time the fairground closed in 1999, all pretense was gone because Saturdays at San Jose mixed fuel-injected 360 and 410 engines and standard 5×5 air foils.

San Jose rookie in 1982, Chuck Miller first visited victory lane in its 1984 Lloyd Beard 100. He nailed the first NARC sprint win for Payless Rockery’s Ray and Jay Williams in 1985 at Petaluma, where they were fourth against Outlaws. Payless opened ‘86 at Ascot and fourth again at Hanford. However, the boys in orange began a string of icons like Brent Kaeding, Jeff Swindell, Doug Wolfgang and Mark Kinser. Don Berry Construction chose Chuck for three seasons. He became an incredible qualifier. Eighteen evenings in ‘88 earned quick time but only three ended in victory. Miller opened the ‘89 Outlaw trail at Firebird, fastest at San Jose and second at Hanford, where they won three. NARC sanctioned Chuck’s first Chico checkered flag. They beat half of The Outlaws at the 1990 Gold Cup. Berry picked Ronnie Day in 1991 so Miller opened the Outlaw trail sixth at Bakersfield as Danell/DeHart successor to professor Jimmy Sills. They won a portion of Hanford’s Al Pombo/Marshall Sargent Classic. Miller moved to Ken Koziar to net two Saturdays at San Jose, two Fridays at Kings (topped by another Pombo/Sargent slice), Watsonville, Chico NARC and Johnny Key Classic worth 5k. Kenko 24k ended 1993 on Arizona television, started 1994 with three San Jose wins, added another Pombo and another Key. Three more fairground feature wins began 1995 highlighted by a second Beard trophy. They swept an entire Golden State weekend at Silver Dollar. Chuck began 1996 then quietly retired.

8.8.93 New Oxford, PA (Lincoln) Bill Brian Sr. and Jr. (David Giles photo)

Lincoln Speedway staged a stirring upset near Gettysburg when the 1993 World of Outlaws were toppled by Bill Brian Jr. For nearly two decades, Bill Brian Excavating near Ephrata fielded modified stock cars and sprint winners for Garry Gollub and Bobby Weaver. Before knocking off The Outlaws however, Junior owned exactly one checkered flag from Susquehanna two years before. They had been second at Lincoln behind Fred Rahmer six nights earlier in a mild foreshadow. The team rode momentum into their first Knoxville Nationals, where 15th in Bill’s first feature seemed stout until they bailed for Chillicothe. His only 410 feature win at Williams Grove fell in 1993. Seventh at Syracuse was Billy’s next best Outlaw run. He won the 1994 Gohn Memorial at Lincoln. Path Valley began 1995 with sprint cars and Billy and kid brother Cliff Brian won all five. Billy captured Lincoln legs to Speed Weeks of 1995-96. He won three of ten in 1996 including 10k from East Bay. But after two years between win circles, Brian converted from 410 to URC 360 engines and won nine times at The Grove, Grandview, Bridgeport, Delmar and Orange County. He was second at Syracuse and returned to Knoxville for the 2002 Tournament of Champions. Cliff Brian’s last sprint car belonged to Tom Buch before Tom lost Jesse Hockett and Jason Leffler. Buch beat The Outlaws at Rolling Wheels with Paul McMahan in 2012.

The only soul on this page larger in physical size than either generation of Bill Brian is Jason Statler, star of high school football before stopping The Outlaws at Santa Maria in 1999. He mirrored Miller by beginning on the San Jose Fairground. His first Outlaw accomplishment was the 1991 Gold Cup final. Johnny Key Classic moved to Watsonville in 1992 when Statler won it. At the end of 1993, he finished fifth with NARC at Marysville, improved to fourth at the 1995 Dave Bradway Jr. Memorial then third in Chico’s NARC closer. Statler’s first sprint win came at Petaluma during 1996 NARC Speed Week. David (D.F) Rios shipped Jason to Eldora, Knoxville Nationals then Thunder Through The Plains. They returned to ‘98-99 Nationals and three more Speed Weeks. He returned home a better product yet on the night before his shocking Outlaw victory, Statler missed the cut at Kings. 

8.29.00 Bechtelsville, PA (Grandview) Jason Statler (David Giles photo)

Jason raced another 20 years. He followed the World of Outlaws Support Series and All Star Circuit of Champions into Central PA. He won a winged show at Lincoln Park and closed 2000 in Charlotte and Vegas. He returned to Santa Maria’s win circle with the 2003 Golden State Challenge Series, beat them again at Placerville, and pocketed $5600 for 2004 Bradway honors. Kevin Rudeen flew Statler to Seattle and Sydney, where they finished fourth on the eve of New Year’s Eve. Statler padded Golden State wins at Chico, Tulare and Calistoga in 2008. He was eighth against Outlaws at Antioch and made his final series start at the Gold Cup of 2016. He retired in 2020 to his cabin in Grass Valley, childhood home of Jason’s wife Stephanie Harvey.

Blake Feese was a fast kid on a fast track to NASCAR. To that end, he could not have selected a better spot for his one World of Outlaws victory than The Dirt Track at Charlotte in 2003. Five months later, he was an ARCA rookie. Steps on the ladder were met just as Dave Feese had envisioned. Dave sold insurance while winning late model and sprint car races from Saybrook, IL. He did the 1990 USAC Silver Crown circuit for Del McClure, scoring sixth at Phoenix and seventh at Milwaukee before Del dropped the axe in favor of future champ Mike Bliss. Feese started his son at 600cc. They dominated. Blake became a sprint car rookie at 410ci. In his third month, he won at Haubstadt. He beat the IRA at Hartford and Beaver Dam, did Ohio Speed Week in 2001, and filled in for Brian Paulus at The Grove and Knoxville Nationals. One of his toughest IRA rivals was Raymond Hensley until Raymond’s ride went to Feese, who brought it to Knoxville and left triumphant. He beat the All Stars in his sixth Eldora start. Boston Reid’s father offered a USAC ride for Nazareth. “Beaver Bob” Vielhauer brought Blake to Lakeside and Knoxville, where Feese won again. 

10.13.00 Terre Haute, IN: Kraig Kinser and Blake Feese (Mike Spitzer photo)

Saybrook sits 80 miles northwest of the Illinois capitol of Springfield, where Maxim Chassis has cornered the largest share of the sprint car market since Karl Kinser sold blueprints to Chuck Merrill in 1989. One of Merrill Construction’s first stars was Scott Ritchhart before he became a Maxim foreman. Ritchhart thought so much of young Feese that he hired the kid. Merrill supported the notion. Number Three raced three times at Knoxville, towed to Charlotte and slapped The Outlaws. Guy Forbrook hired him. Scott Mertz and Gene Jenkins brought Feese to the Sharon Nationals. 

Blake’s future was in fenders. In his second ARCA start, he won in Nashville for Bobby Gerhart then topped Talladega for Rick Hendrick. Blake and Beaver Bob missed the 2004 Nationals final by two spots. Mertz and Jenkins placed Feese in the 2005 Nationals C-main. He was unemployed in 2006 and back in ARCA in 2007. After three years off dirt, he raced with The Outlaws at Chillicothe and 2008 Nationals. Blake took one more swing at NASCAR in 2011. Ironically, the driver who Feese replaced in Steve Turner’s truck was Brad Sweet eight years before Brad’s championship. Blake Feese is 38 years old. NASCAR is cruel about age. Rick Hendrick deleted his number long ago. Blake’s sprint car story may hold another chapter.

The saga of Blake Feese is similar to that of Erin Crocker because both used Outlaw momentum to launch NASCAR aspirations. It was the very end of Erin’s only Outlaw season in 2004 when she became the first female winner in series history. Her victory was more than an upset of gender because she had never won a 410 feature, never been on an Outlaw podium, and had fallen short of a transfer into all but five of 14 events leading into her Tulare (CA) Thunderbowl blow to male egos.

The redhead from Massachusetts emerged from Whip City micro midgets. She joined the Eastern Limited Sprints in 2000 and progressed to Empire Super Sprints in 2001. Crocker became Mike Woodring’s first female prodigy in 2002. Erin earned ESS wins at Erie, Mohawk and Albany-Saratoga. Woodring and Crocker crossed 1-2 in Granby, Quebec. Student defeated teacher at Ohsweken, Ontario. She tried the 2002-03 Knoxville 360 Nationals but really opened eyes as the first female on the final grid of the 410 Nationals in 2003. Second at Sharon Nationals, she toured Australia second at Nyora and third at Avalon. She made the final of the 2004 Grand Annual Classic after contact from Travis Rilat, a Texas rattler very nearly skinned for crashing the cute coed. Prior to her lone victory, Erin’s highest finishes with the World of Outlaws were tenth at Joplin and Sioux Falls then fourth at the Lebanon Valley (NY) Speedway just east of her Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Woodring purchased an ex-Brian Paulus Beast for Crocker to compete in 2004 USAC Silver Crown endurances at Phoenix and Richmond. At the 2005 Phoenix Copper Classic, her champ car belonged to Kasey Kahne, the NASCAR darling of Ray Evernham at the time. Kahne took Crocker back to Richmond and Pikes Peak. Stock cars came next. She tried ARCA and NASCAR Busch until breaking a rib at Dover then drove trucks in 2006. Erin authored ARCA’s fastest lap of Daytona at 182 MPH. Her last NASCAR start came in 2008 at Fontana, CA. She became Mrs. Ray Evernham in 2009. Wall Stadium’s top rookie of 1976 is 23 years her senior. Erin returned to race in the 2009-10 Knoxville Nationals. She and Ray welcomed daughter Cate in 2015.

Anyone who watched Mark Dobmeier win 200 times at Sioux Falls, Knoxville or Grand Forks (140 alone) was less than surprised when the North Dakota ace defeated the World of Outlaws. But the fact that Dobmeier did so where he had never been aboard a car he had never seen stamped Wilmot as an upset. Car owners Bob Campbell and Tim Hanson had seen seven victory lanes with The Outlaws thanks to Brooke Tatnell. Five summers later, Dobmeier dusted his half of 2011 Nationals then added a second official Outlaw accomplishment at now-Badlands in 2014.

Similar circumstances surrounded Doug Esh’s victory at Lebanon Valley in 2010. “The Hammer” had already topped The Outlaws at the 2006 National Open using Tom Leach’s familiar tubing and throttle pedal. But who expected Esh to jump in Leonard Lee’s car and vanquish The Valley where no one had beaten The Outlaws before or since? Hammer used a good box of nails because the Lon Carnahan R19 had visited eleven victory lanes with Jason Solwold and Jac Haudenschild from New Zealand to Alberta.

West Burlington, Iowa’s 34 Raceway was the 2008 site of the only World of Outlaws victory ever by Kansas native turned Tulsa resident Tony Bruce Jr. The kid from Liberal landed precisely five Top Five finishes with the series prior to his checkered flag. Bruce bagged sixth-place at the 2006 Las Vegas finale and improved to fourth at Pevely and third at Charlotte in 2007. Fourth at Knoxville was Tony’s only Top Ten of 2008 beyond Burlington. One year later, he finished second with the series at West Memphis and fifth at the Dodge City Raceway Park closest to home. Bruce then switched from 410 to ASCS 360 travels.

Skagit Speedway has seen surprises like the 2011 World of Outlaws win by Sam Hafertepe Jr. Sam’s string of four ASCS Dirt Cup conquests does cast his upset in a different light. Add the fact that his Outlaw score came in a car owned by Kevin Rudeen, who continues to compile trophies with Cory Eliason and Sam’s win seems no fluke. On the other hand, Travis Jacobson stunned every last logger by beating The Outlaws in 2012. Sixth at the Skagit stop of 2011 had been Jacobson’s series highlight. His winning machine belonged to Mike Anderson, who would win the first 360 Dirt Cup with Solwold in 2015. Doug Rutz took Jacobson to the Gold Cup of 2010. He has not raced against Outlaws for six years.

The 2015 World Finals in Charlotte was not where a kid from South Dakota seemed likely to join the winners on the World of Outlaws. Nor was such a feat likely in the Buffalo Wild Wings 82 that discarded drivers like chicken bones. Yet that was what Dusty Zomer did. Some might have seen Knoxville as more likely since Zomer made his first Nationals final in 2006, earned an amazing ninth in the Nationals of 2008, made a third final for Ed Gifford in 2009, then crossed eleventh at the 2013 Nationals for Skagit refugee Derek Ingalls. He had been sixth at Volusia to start 2007 and second at Grand Forks in 2015 but nothing that hinted at North Carolina.

Growing up as Dominic Scelzi seemed like a nice roll of the dice. His dad Gary was a drag racing legend with a trucking company capable of providing his sons with ever-more-lethal toys. Dom got to be quite good, finishing third with the World of Outlaws at Silver Dollar and again at Black Hills in 2018. Yet for most of his childhood and professional adult life, people have been waiting for his kid brother Giovanni. And the skinniest Scelzi is indeed amazing. What else would one call a kid who dusted Outlaws at The Grove in 2018 in only his second time under the bridge driving for a Lernerville photographer turned Indy Race Parts tycoon? This season, Bernie Stuebgen has hired Shane Stewart and they netted fourth at Lake Ozark and fifth at Beaver Dam.

And now we have the grandson of Richard Short, who grew up hard with such a name. In the years before Ted Johnson formed the World of Outlaws, he leased Boothill Speedway in Shreveport, LA and Lincoln (PA) Speedway. The winner at Boothill was Chuck Amati aboard the Richard Short 21. If young Carson Short tops “The Greatest Show On Dirt” again, maybe Haubstadt was no upset.

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